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"(1A) Subsection (2) also applies where the proper officer of the local housing authority considers that a survey or examination of any premises is necessary in order to carry out an inspection under section 4(2).
(2) Where this subsection applies
(a) a person authorised by the local housing authority (in a case within subsection (1)), or
(b) the proper officer (in a case within subsection (1A)),
may enter the premises in question at any reasonable time for the purpose of carrying out a survey or examination of the premises."
The Deputy Chairman of Committees: I should have warned the noble Baroness that, by reason of pre-emption, if Amendment No. 238E was agreed to, Amendments Nos. 238F and 238G could not be moved. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, that she cannot move those amendments.
The noble Baroness said: I have been knocked back by not being told earlier that my other amendments were pre-emptive. I do not quite understand that. But I understand that I can still speak.
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This clause is about the power of entry. As it stands a local authority can effectively send an authorised person to enter the home of an individual for the purpose of Clause 203, without seeking even the approval of a magistrate or some other judicial authority. Can the Minister say whether that is a new departure, because Amendments Nos. 238G and 238J specify that before such action can be taken the local authority must seek the authorisation of a warrant of a magistrate?
Amendment No. 238F is simply a probing amendment which has been pre-empted. Finally, Amendment No. 238K would remove from the armoury of the local authority the ability to leave recording equipment on any site it visited. I have to say that, reading between the lines, that gives enough legitimacy for a local authority to basically spy on and bug an individual in their accommodation. This would appear to be a worrying departure. We need from the Minister an understanding of what is required in terms of the powers of entry, so that we are not giving power of entry to any local authority person, whether authorised to be dealing with these matters or not. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: This group of amendments, as the noble Baroness said, seeks to limit access where a warrant has already been issued. I presume that this is not necessary when the owner is prepared to co-operate.
Baroness Hanham: This amendment has nothing to do with a situation in which a warrant has been issued. It states that there should be no entry without a warrant. I think we are on the wrong side of the coin.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The amendment is designed to prevent an authority entering premises without a warrant. I understand the point. I am not quite sure what the problem is, because I think that such powers have existed before but I wish to check that.
Baroness Hanham: There is a concern, first, about people, however prominent in the local authority, waltzing into other people's property. Secondly, there is a concern about leaving recording equipment for some reasonhowever good they might think it isthat could potentially bug the property. I cannot make it much clearer than that.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The powers contained in Clause 203 give the local housing authority power of access where certain conditions are met. Representatives of the authority must have written authorisation setting out the purpose for which the entry is authorised and must give at least 24 hours notice to the owner or occupier of the premises they intend to enter.
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Permission under the clause does not include a power to use force to enter and the power of entry includes entry for the purpose of taking samples. That is how it is framed, and it is also relevant to mention that Clause 204 enables a justice of the peace to issue a warrant for admission to premises, and that this includes power to enter by force, but only if necessary. The power is applicable, however, only when either entry under Clause 203 has been refused, or the property is empty and immediate access is necessary, or prior warning of entry is likely to negate the purpose of access. I understand the concerns, but there is sufficient qualification and hedging of the entry power so that the problem that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, sees is not so obvious.
In particular, the recording equipment referred to, which may well have triggered part of the concern in terms of eavesdropping and so on, is for recording levels of, for example, radon, or other harmful gases or particles. The inspector may need to leave the equipmentI am sure the noble Baroness will be familiar with this sort of activity from her local government experienceand return after a period of time, rather than take an immediate test and leave with the equipment. We do not want, in these circumstances, where there is an important issue of public health, to tie the hands of the inspector and prevent the inspector from acting effectively.
However, the inspector cannot simply leave equipment that records gases or particles without justification. I would like to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, that we have hedged this power sufficiently. It is a matter of public protection and it is not a power that we would advance without all of those issues being at the forefront of our thinking.
Baroness Hanham: I am sorry that it is so late, because I would really wish to test the Minister on what he has said. Clause 203(4) states that before entering the premises the authorised person must give 24 hours' notice to the owner of the premises or to the occupier, if any. The chances are that there will be somebody there. I will read what the Minister finally said when we got the thing right, but there is a real problem with people having the right to enter property
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Would it help if between now and Report I sent the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, a note giving some further explanation? This is a benign power. I can understand, having heard the noble Baroness read the subsection, that there may be some concern that we are being over-zealous here, but that is not the intention. I think that I could probably reassure the noble Baroness in correspondence.
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